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We see in this text (Acts 16:11–15) beginnings, foundation, preparations, though not meritorious, are necessary and blessed of God. Civility may prepare a nation for salvation like these things prepared a city for joy.

At the same time, we must recognize that joy comes not by understanding everything, but by trusting the one who does. Delight in this world and even in the Lord of this world does not come by having it all in our heads, but by putting our heads in it, and most importantly in the Lord.

Now, we now pick up here with the apostle, together with Timothy, Silas, and apparently Luke as an eyewitness with joy in their sails per se from the vision given after many miles of closed doors. Thus it is at the start of this journey there is joy already. And how can this be except that our Lord for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is now seated at the right hand of God! This joy is purchased insolubly by Christ’s cross. If we are to take it up, we must lay all our boasting in human efforts down. Gladly we must if we want this sort of prevenient joy.

Before joy fills the city, there is Sovereign Joy in the Sails

So, v.11 begins, “setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Somothrace” which is a rocky place with a high elevation whose peak rises 5,000 feet (Stott). “and the following day to Neapolis” which is simply the port of Phillipi. Phillipi being named after Philip of Macedon who became the father of Alexander the Great. This city became the first or leading district of the district of Macedonia (a place divided into four districts, known as a small Rome). It hints at a sort of national pride in Luke’s writing here, receiving note of it’s leading position in the district, and being a Roman colony. The distance of this whole thing was accomplished quickly, though it would have normally taken 5 days in an unfavorable wind (Acts 20:6). So, what I note here first is simply that there was a certain joy in their sails from the Lord on this journey before they had it in whole. They would have walked ten miles as well inland to this place. But it is of little note because the emphasis is not on the rockiness and height of Somthrace, nor the difficulty of sailing, nor of the walk inland, but of the fact they came to Philippi! This city and especially its church comes to be known for joy. Before such, there was joy in the sails of these travelers. So, we may say the first thing to notice is the sovereign joy in their sails.

Shall we not have sovereign joy in our sails? Is God not sovereign in our lives and all of life? Do we not have revealed to us in a more expansive way than Paul had at this time to him? For the Christian believer, the fuel for the conquest in spite of life’s frustrations is the joy of the sovereign Lord. It is something preexistent. We were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world in the Lamb that was slain. Shall not sovereign joy fill our sails as well, before we ever have its fullness? Indeed. We can say as believers it does and will again and again.

Before joy fills the city, there is Sovereign Joy in Supplications

They are evidently occupied in Philippi for “some days” but it is especially noted on the Sabbath Day they look for a customary place of prayer which would be outside the gate by the riverside. It took ten men to constitute a synagogue, so evidently in this place there were not enough men to constitute one, so it was supposed there would at least be a place of prayer in this place. They found a group of women doing exactly that.

What is significant about this whole meeting is that they are by a river, which is likely a matter of tradition held during and after the Babylonian captivity of gathering by the river to pray. They did so according to Psalm 137 by the rivers of Babylon. And evidently the present circumstance without a church yet was a place of lament, longing, and laying hold of Christ’s victory. Psalm 137 illustrates this in the lament of present circumstances by the river; and follows this by their expressed longing for evil to be limited and stopped; and ends with a statement of faith laying hold of Christ’s victory (comp. 1 Peter 5:10).

When we are caught in the despair over our own land on the Lord’s Day, where do we turn? Shall we not turn to joy in supplication by lamenting the present state of things, by longing for the promise as Zechariah 14:7 has it “at evening there shall be light!” Shall we not lay hold of Christ’s victory over all the world and take up his cross which wrought the joy set before him, the lamb slain before the foundation of the world? We ought to pray and not lose heart because of sovereign joy! Before there was joy in the city of Philippi, there was joy in prayer or supplication.

Before joy fills the city, there is Sovereign Joy in Salvation

Lastly note that of this woman who formed the foundation of the church at Philippi. She was one of three noted converts of this foundation that Luke brings out to make us, I believe, see sovereign joy.

So, we see her described first as a woman. She is notably regarded according to her unchangeable gender. Luke could have noted the Philippian jailer first, as a man who was saved, but he chooses to notes two woman beginning with this one to show us the beginning of joy in this city would be with the creating of a church with two women and one man. It is certain there were others, but the point is those whom he mentions are significant and their order. We see in difference to Judaism that required ten men to form a syngagogue, such is not required to form a church! There is neither male nor female in regard to salvation and the forming of a body of Christ in a place. There certainly must be both, but there is number requirement of men like that that the Jews had.

Second, she is mentioned in regards to her name. She is named Lydia after an ancient kingdom; some say she may have simply been known as the Lydian lady (Stott).

Third, she is referenced in regards to her place, “the city of Thyatira.” The Bible notes this place later in Revelation commended for her service, but rebuked for tolerating a Jezebel type woman (which Lydia was not). Jezebel of course was a woman from Israel’s history married to King Ahab. Her end was ugly being thrown over the wall and eaten by dogs who left part of her hands and skull. This is all to say that a church can have many things to commend but to let the influence of one member corrupt the fellowship is intolerable to the Lord and he will judge. Why? He didn’t send his Son to save Thyratira simply to let the beauty of Lydia be ruined.

Fourth, she is referenced in regards to her occupation. She is a seller of purple goods. She is evidently a business woman, though there is no indication that she remains this after conversion. Thyatira was known for its dyes. An early inscription refers to a guild of dyers in the town, she herself being the Macedonian agent of the Thyatiran manufacturer (Stott). She would be certainly among what Proverbs 31:18 says, “she perceives that her merchandise is profitable.” I think it is worth saying here that the idea that God does not prepare people in salvation is not true. He often does. And this is an instant. Civility can be argued to promote the greatest soil of salvation. Whatever we say of Lydia is certainly not meritorious; that is earning salvation. Nonetheless, it is not without mention.

Fifth, related to this is the matter that she is said to be a worshiper of the God. She falls in the category like Cornelius in Acts 10. She is not saved as a child of God yet, but there is something prepared here. I can only relate that before there ever was in my life salvation, there was God’s preparing me. I found it needed to remove all that represented evil in our apartment, and around this time married my wife all in the fear of God. These things did not merit salvation in my life, but they certainly were preparation.

The salvation then came to this woman as it is said by the Lord opening her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. This in short means she was made to delight in God’s Word. This is a chief indicator of salvation, how we view the Bible. But it is more specific, I am convinced so. For some may pretend to have an esteem for the Word who do not do the Word. So, it must be said this attention means to be opened to delight in the Word with intent to do it! It is like in the Psalms where we read the command was given: Seek My Face! And the response of the open hearted believer is “Your Face will I seek!”

Now, Luke does not leave us simply with salvation in its initial movement, but shows us how it is related to the church. She was baptized, and her household as well. This apparently means those who worked with her and traveled with her. There is no indication or argument for infant baptism here. We simply read of a business woman whose household would have naturally included others of employment by her and perhaps some related by blood. They would have been in the same category, but the means being her conversion though not meritorious. The head of a household gets saved, it naturally follows all in the household follow in that saving faith and church membership.

What is more is the evidence of her saving faith is that she does not turn to take her business and use that first to bless God’s ministers, but she as a woman invites them to her house to stay and would not accept no for an answer. It is apparent that she is asking them to judge her as being a Christian. So, she says, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord…” The ministers here affirm her faith not merely by baptism, but by accepting the woman’s hospitality, which I believe related to her role as a woman especially though not exclusively. What humility of such a leading woman at the time shown here. What an evidence of conversion that a leading businesswoman does not offer her wares before she offers her home and hospitality.

In short, she takes joy in Salvation before it is full by means of the Scriptures, the sacraments and service. These matter to her, because they judge her faithful as a believer.

Thus, I see here that before there is ever joy in a city like Philippi, that prototype of all cities that will be reached for God, there will be joy put in the sails of God’s ministers; there will be joy in the supplications of God’s saints lamenting the present day of evil, longing for a better day, and laying hold of Christ’s sure victory; there will be sovereign joy in the salvation of leading women so as to bring many sons to glory and to nourish God’s own ministers with joy too. O Sovereign Joy!

Note the joy we may have here with the fact that God would not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for 10 righteous people in it. How much more hope does a nation or city have if there is a church of 40 right here! What hope, what joy, what Sovereign joy! Amen.

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